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updated: 12/13/2012 10:45 AM

Good wine: Wine traditions then and now

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Not all that long ago, a drink of water came from the tap and milk was delivered daily, door-to-door.

It's not surprising, then, that wine -- our third oldest beverage -- has seen some changes of its own over the years. Let's take a closer look.


Then: Great Britain drove world wine sales in established categories including France's Bordeaux (which the British renamed claret), Germany's Rhine region (renamed hock) and dessert wines from Hungary (Tokaji), Portugal (Port) and Spain (Madeira and Sherry or Sack).

Now: The U.S. drives world wine sales in time-honored and emerging regions, stimulating even the most established producers to substitute grapes, critters and cutesy names for traditional regional designations.


Then: Fine wine was produced specifically for each family, aged at the producer's domaine and delivered in cask or bottle to rest in home cellars.

Now: Customers browse shops, aging their selection in the car ride home.


Then: Glassware was heavy, opaque and ornately decorated, all the better to mask the hazy, chemically unstable and sediment-rich wine within.

Now: Glassware is light weight and crystal-clear, all the better to display the advancement of both glass and wine technology.

Service temperature

Then: In the absence of ice, all wine was served at cellar temperature -- about 55-degrees degrees -- and allowed to chambree (come to room temperature), which was not much different.

Now: Wine receives the full effect of modern refrigeration and heating; whites are served too cold, reds too warm.


Then: Early Americans were a spirited bunch, on average drinking 8 ounces of alcohol each day: beer or cider for breakfast; rum and wine with dinner; brandy, Port, Sherry and Madeira into the evening.

Now: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a daily dose up to one drink for women or two for men, among the lowest such guidelines internationally. (BTW: A "drink" is defined as 5 ounces of wine; 8 of beer; 1.5 of distilled spirit.) At the same time, Americans drink about 15 ounces of soft drinks per day, the highest rate on earth and cited as a leading cause of American obesity and diabetes.

Formal dinner

Then: Formal dinners were day-to-night affairs, with seven to 22 courses, each complemented by a specific wine. With hors d'oeuvre, the careful host offered dry Sack (see above). With soup, aged Amontillado Sack. With fish, white Burgundy or Hock. With the entree, Claret. With game, red Burgundy. With the Roast, a finer red Burgundy. If salad, no wine. With dessert, Sauternes. With cheese, Port. Then, the gentlemen retired for brandy.

Now: While opulent affairs still exist, most of us are contented by "white wine with fish, red wine with meat," a good night's sleep and an early morning at the gym to work it all off.

• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at

Ross' choice

"Prestige" Rosť Brut
Champagne Duval-Leroy
Champagne, France
• Suggested retail and availability: About $55 at wine shops and chain stores (distributed by Cream Wine Co., Chicago)

Champagne's status as the world's most celebrated beverage hasn't changed, but the world's enjoyment of it has. Once limited to caviar, blini and smoked salmon, Champagne's menu now includes dim sum and sushi, ceviche, barbecued duck and the succulent Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder served at Chicago hot-spot Trenchermen. This dry-ish rosť boasts creamy mouth feel and satisfying flavors combining cherry, fig and grilled nuts and a long, plush finish.

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